China-Burma-India Gallery in Road to Tokyo

Road to Tokyo

Pacific Theater Galleries

Richard C. Adkerson & Freeport-McMoRan Foundation Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries retraces the grueling trail that led from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay by way of New Guinea and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Burma, the islands of the Pacific, China, India, and Alaska. Exhibits explore the evolving strategy for fighting relentless Japanese forces in Asia and the Pacific, examining cultural differences, logistical challenges, and the staggering range of extreme conditions that confronted American military forces.

Conveyed through artifacts (including a shark-faced P-40 Warhawk), oral histories, serialized “Dog Tag” profiles, short films, and recreated environments, this is the story of a world that was unimaginably alien to American GIs, a conflict of searing brutality, and a victory so devastating it is hotly debated even today. But this is also the story of the American spirit that carried the day: the dogged hard work of Seabees literally paving the way for island-hopping aircraft, scientists in a race to create vaccines against devastating new diseases, and daring commanders facing ever-changing obstacles with equal parts innovation and courage. Exhibit treatments bring to life the naval and air forces, the soldiers and marines, as well as engineers creating the machinery to cross vast distances, carry massive cargo, and build cities at sea. This is the story of the Americans who forged a road to Tokyo through courage, ingenuity, and great sacrifice that ended the war at last.


Facing the Rising Sun

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; four days later Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Americans, enraged, were determined to avenge the attack on their territory, however daunting challenges laid ahead. Facing the Rising Sun takes visitors into this moment in history, introducing the key leaders whose loyalties and ambitions defined the moment, and the logistical challenges of a two-front war shaped the years to come.

Made possible through a gift from The Starr Foundation

Facing the Rising Sun gallery, Road to Tokyo

Briefing Room: Japanese Onslaught

On a replica bridge of the USS Enterprise, three large windows reveal fighter planes taking off over enemy waters. The Pacific war is underway. Photographs flanking those windows introduce military leaders—nine each on both Allied and Axis sides—along with an overview of US strategy in the Pacific theater: there will be not one but two paths to Tokyo. US forces (led primarily by the Army) will approach from the southwest Pacific, fighting across New Guinea and other occupied islands toward the Philippines.

Meanwhile, US forces (led primarily by the US Navy) will cross the vast waters of the central Pacific in a more direct path to Japan. But already spirits are low: newsreels report Japanese victories in Singapore and the Philippines and brutal treatment of American POWs. The Enterprise is steaming forward into hostile waters, and the odds for its survival—and the survival of the sailors, pilots, and mechanics on board—look grim indeed.

Made possible through a gift from Madlyn and Paul Hilliard

Briefing Room: Japanese Onslaught gallery, Road to Tokyo

The New Naval Warfare: First Blood

The attack on Pearl Harbor was devastating to American battleships. Not so to the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines, which were at sea during the attack. They remained fully functional and would help redefine the way the United States waged war at sea. Unlike the battleships of old, the USS Enterprise and her sister carriers were floating airbases, each home to more than 2,000 servicemembers as well as a fleet of aircraft, which took flight from her deck to attack and destroy Japanese aircraft and naval vessels. Part of this gallery presents the quieter side of life aboard ship: clean beds, regular meals, and even recreation. An “exterior” section takes visitors onto the flight deck, where story panels introduce three key naval actions (Doolittle Raid, Coral Sea, and Midway), and the Midway theater dives deeper into the Pacific’s most pivotal battle. Actual footage of planes in action—taking off, landing, and even crashing—on the Enterprise flight deck completes the illusion of being onboard ship as visitors take in key themes of the new naval warfare, including dire submarine fatalities, the ethics of code-breaking work, and the dramatic speed with which the tides of war can shift.

Made possible through a gift from Lt. Commander Alden J. “Doc” Laborde, USN

Additional funding provided by the Strake Foundation, Houston, Texas; Tom & Gayle Benson; Dean Hallett; and Enterprise Holdings Foundation


Guadalcanal: Green Hell

The setting shifts from sea to land at Guadalcanal, the site of World War II’s first major amphibious landing and the first ground assault by US forces. Vividly rendered and viscerally impactful, this experiential gallery features an immersive environmental narrative that draws the visitor into a towering palm jungle, following in the footsteps of American GIs as they battled heat, mosquitoes, disease, dense vegetation, and unfamiliar terrain along with a ferocious enemy in an all-consuming, round-the-clock battle. Together with the discouragement of a string of defeats against the Japanese—including naval defeats that left Americans on the island effectually stranded—these seemingly overwhelming obstacles were an assault on both body and mind. Still, American troops, mainly Marines, fought on to capture and defend the first Allied foothold in the Pacific, notably at the Battle of Tenaru River. But although that battle was a victory for the Allies, it was also a chilling education in the nature of their enemy: injured Japanese soldiers fought without mercy and without any thought of surrender, refusing to yield even to their dying breaths.

Made possible through a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker Hayes

Additional funding provided by Devon and Jackson Anderson and Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation

Guadalcanal: Green Hell Gallery in Road to Tokyo

Island Hopping: Footholds Across the Pacific

Daring amphibious landings, deadly obstacles on treacherous beaches, massive human cost, and an uncertain outcome—this D-Day narrative was repeated hundreds of times over in the Pacific, as American troops inched closer to Japan. The US “island hopping” strategy targeted key islands and atolls to capture and equip with airstrips, bringing B-29 bombers within range of the enemy homeland, while hopping over strongly defended islands, cutting off supply lanes and leaving them to wither. But progress was never simple: With every beach came new terrain with unpredictable challenges, a firmly entrenched hidden enemy, and another desperate battle to establish one more foothold. As US forces closed in on Japan, battle often meant encounters with terrified civilians who would rather die than surrender—and the dubious prize of being able to “hop” forward and begin the grueling cycle all over again. In this serpentine gallery, a realistic beachscape recreates a landing site on the island of Tarawa. Other exhibits describe the integrated effort between sea, land, and air, as well as successes in intelligence (Native American code talkers), technology (the long-range B-29 Bomber), and carrier warfare (the Marianas Turkey Shoot) in the fight for control of the skies. 

Made possible through a gift from James S. McDonnell Family Foundation & Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III, A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation, with additional support by Disabled Veterans of LA Chapter 4, Inc. & Auxiliary

Island Hopping gallery, Road to Tokyo

China-Burma-India: The Pacific War's Second Front

A restored P-40 Warhawk fighter plane is suspended in front of a massive three-panel video screen, which alternates between an animated map showing wartime supply routes to China and environmental video of the Himalayas, giving an instant impression of the dramatic obstacles and feats of daring that defined the “China-Burma-India” theater. By forcing the Japanese to fight on a second front in the Asia-Pacific war, CBI held critical strategic importance: While 11 Japanese army divisions battled US forces on the islands and at sea, a staggering 40 more (nearly one million Japanese) were tied up in the Sino-Japanese War in China—and the Allies were determined to keep them there. Doing so meant supplying the Chinese with essential material over enormous distances and confronting a maze of logistical challenges, from the jagged peaks of the Himalayas obstructing air lanes above to strangled roadways below. A contoured topographical map helps illustrate the formidable geographical obstacles American troops faced as they defended supply lines, rescued downed pilots, and engaged in covert operations with the Sino-American Cooperative Organization and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the predecessor to today’s CIA.

Made possible through a gift from Boysie & Joy Bollinger

Additional support by The Brees Family in Honor of Col. Eugene Wilson Brees, US Army; Madlyn and Paul Hilliard; and the Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Foundation. In Memory of Marvin Lee Chipman


Philippines: Return to the Philippines

As an American Commonwealth, the Philippines held special meaning for US forces: this was American territory in enemy hands. It was also the land of a people to whom the United States had promised independence, and MacArthur saw its liberation from the Japanese as a moral imperative. Strategically, it was a necessity: the Philippines were perfectly positioned to control shipping lanes, and the flow of oil and other supplies to Japan. The fight to wrest this advantageously important stronghold from Japanese control was costly and vast: It included the war’s largest naval battle at Leyte Gulf and the decimation of the Japanese navy (represented here by artifacts from the battleship Nagato), MacArthur’s return and determination to overcome his previous defeat, and rumored executions of American prisoners, which spurred a daring rescue operation by the US Rangers. Fighting for control of the capitol city, Manila, once known as “the pearl of the Orient,” included guerilla tactics by Filipino natives, heavy artillery barrages by the Allies, and kamikaze attacks by Japanese pilots, resulting in the urban ruins depicted in this immersive gallery.

Made possible through a gift from The Charlie and Janette Kornman Charitable Fund

Additional support by Mr. and Mrs. Harry A. Donovan, Thomas C Terrell lll in Honor of Lt Col Thomas C Terrell WWll AC B-24; In honor of Lt. George R. Cannon and his shipments aboard the USS DuPage; Madlyn and Paul Hilliard; Papson & Little Doc Wilkerson; Grandaddy & Grandmommy Hyne; and Commodore and Mrs. Thomas J. Lupo


Death at Japan's Doorstep: First Assault onto Japanese Soil

Iwo Jima and Okinawa were the final two islands on the way to Japan’s mainland, and two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific theater. Desperate fighting underscored the implacable fervor of the enemy—Japanese soldiers willing to resist to the last man, motivated by their government’s urging: “one hundred million will die together.” The enemy also had a logistical advantage: an underground defensive network of caves and tunnels, realistically depicted in this evocative gallery. Exhibits discuss the lifesaving impact of Navajo code talkers; the headline-grabbing deaths of General Simon B. Buckner, journalist Ernie Pyle, and nearly 20,000 others; and the extraordinary valor that earned US Marines a total of 27 Medals of Honor in Iwo Jima—more than any other battle in US history.

Made possible in part through the support of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph de T. Hogan, Sr.; The Brees Family in Honor of Cpl. Robert Ray Akins, 1st Marine Division/Special Weapons Company; and Satre Family in Memory of Gail and Vern Sterling, First Marine Division, Okinawa


Downfall: Endgame Against Japan

The final months of the war saw unprecedented destruction, with the ferocious fire-bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. American planes first dropped leaflets over Japanese towns, warning that they would be bombed unless their leaders surrendered; then came the bombs, bringing utter destruction with a rain of fire. Japan still refused to surrender. Meanwhile US leaders studied actuary tables that forecast thousands more bombs, thousands more planes, and the loss of untold American lives should the fire-bombing campaign continue. Instead, the decision was made to deploy atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, putting an end to the war in two devastating strikes.

This haunting gallery surrounds the visitor with scenes from these ravaged sites, presented on oversize screens and accompanied by a musical soundtrack that is both somber and contemplative—a departure from the realistic environmental sounds of prior galleries, and an invitation to reflect on a moment that has spurred debate ever since, one when Japan at last saw the hopelessness of its cause. Visitors pass through to a final room in the gallery to witness the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, which marked an end to the war that changed the world.

Additional support provided by In Honor of Lt. William Mosey, Naval Aviator, USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), and Ashner Family Evergreen Foundation In Honor of John “Slew” McCain Sr., Admiral US Navy John “Jack” McCain Jr., Admiral US Navy.

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